What Shall We Name Him
The Light of the World
SETTING THE CONTEXT
The Gospel of John begins not with the birth story of Jesus like the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. It doesnít begin with the ministry of John the Baptist like the Gospel of Mark. It begins at the very beginning of creation. When it comes to Jesus, John speaks in two very different time frames. He speaks of Jesus in the realm of eternity, beyond time and space, then he speaks of Jesus as grounded in human time. He even dates that human time by linking it to the life of a man named John. John uses the image of light for Jesus, it is an image he weaves throughout his gospel.
Read John 1:1-9
Throughout much of my life, I have been afraid of the dark. When I was a child I would have nightmares and wake up terrified in the dark. When I was a single woman living alone, I would fear someone breaking into my house while it was dark and hurting me when no one could see or hear me. While fear can sometimes keep us from doing stupid things or help us stay alert to very real dangers, fear more often than not is a crippling emotion. Fear can create walls in our relationships. Fear can lead us to destructive escapes. It can lead us to see our souls for popularity or a perceived love. The book Alcoholics Anonymous says, ďThis short word somehow touches just about every aspect of our lives. It [is] an evil and corroding thread; the fabric of our existence is shot through with it.Ē Bo Don Cox, a writer talked about the corrosive power of fear in his life. He wrote, ďI was afraid of not fitting in the first time I got high. I was afraid of someone else seeing the truth the first time I lied.Ē[i] George had a friend whose father loved to sail. He had a cabin on a beautiful lake in Up-state New York where he would go to sail on weekends. Just before he was going to retire he sold that cabin and all of his sailing equipment because he was afraid that he would not have enough money for his retirement. George found out a little later that this man had several million dollars. Fear can diminish our lives or cause us to not live life fully. Fear is pervasive, especially I think today with terrorist threats and a shaky economy. Is there anyone here who has never felt fear?
The thing about fear though is that it more often than not leads us into sin. It creates a barrier between us and God. When Bo started getting high, he created a barrier between him and God. When he began to lie, he created a barrier between him and God and when he murdered he created a barrier. One of the things he said in another meditation was that as soon as he started going down that road he stopped going to church. He hid from the community who would challenge and support him to be faithful to God. And then he turned away from God.
Max Lucado describes these barriers like this, There is a window in your heart through which you can see God. Once upon a time that window was clear. Your view of God was crisp. The glass was clean, the pane unbroken. You knew God had a will and you continually discovered what it was. Then, suddenly, the window cracked. A pebble broke the window and cracks shot out from the point of impact creating a spider web of fragmented pieces. The view of God that had been so crisp changed. Godís figure was distorted. The moment the pebble struck, the shattered glass became a reference point for you. The view is distorted Ė not gone but distorted.[ii] Fear can be that pebble that shatters our view of God and our view of our true selves. The thing is that God is not willing to leave us alone with that broken glass. God is not willing to leave us without hope, without a guide. You see the Light of God continues to shine through even shattered windows, even into shattered lives. Fear will not overcome the light of Christ.
Johnís Gospel does not promise us that there will be no darkness in the world. He knows too well that sin exists in the world. The promise is that if we follow Jesus, if we trust in him and live our lives as he has called us to live them we will not have to walk in that darkness anymore. Darkness is the absence of light. When Light overcomes darkness, it does not beat it up or kill it, it fills it, changing it so completely that it is a new thing entirely. The light of Jesus which shines Godís love into our lives and into the world converts fear into trust, into courage, into the will to seek true life. If we trust God completely, as Jesus did we will never have to live in fear. If we refuse to lie or give ourselves to other gods like addictions or wealth or false securities; if we donít worry about looking weak or silly, if we treat people in that radical way that Jesus calls us to live together we wonít have to fear.
The problem is that itís really really hard - at least for me. Iím a worrier and itís hard not to worry which is just a form of fear. I have to say I have almost stopped watching the Phoenix news because it just instills more revulsion and fear in me. I can find more things to worry about, many of which will never happen. Recently, a couple of us were talking about the psyche of poverty. On a program about giving, John Stossel challenged the billionaire Ted Turner (who has already given about 70% of his wealth away) about why he didnít use more of his immense wealth to help the needy.[iii] His response was, well Iíve got to be sure I donít run out. A man with billions of dollars still lives in fear of being poor. We need the Light of the World, folks. I canít do it on my own and I donít think you can either. Jesus is the guide, the light who shows us how to live fearlessly and fully.† Jesus is the light for Bo Cox who turned back to God and discovered that he gave him the strength to become clean and sober. He also helped him find a community of faith to challenge him to be a true disciple. He discovered that as he followed and continues to follow the light of Christ he becomes a better man, a man like God created him to be, and as he witnesses to the powerful love of God through his life-changing experiences he is pointing others to the Light. Jesus said in John 8:12, ďI am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.Ē
I have a former parishioner who has a lighthouse collection.[iv] The lighthouse is a lifeline in the midst of storms at sea. People depend on them to find their way home and to warn them of the rocks and dangers in the shallows. When one is lost at sea I can only imagine the fear and then the relief and joy that come when the lighthouse beam is spotted. We are saved! Meryl loves lighthouses so much because they remind her of Jesus, the Beacon of Hope, the Light of the World. He is the one who shines through the darkness to guide us home to God no matter what the source of our darkness might be. He is the one who illuminates the dangers and pitfalls of sin. †The true light, which enlightens everyone, came into the world. He is present in the world. He is coming into the world. Shine Jesus shine.
Let us pray. Lord Jesus, light of the world shine on our places of fear and in your love convert them to places of light. Help us to follow you in all that we are and in all that we do so that we may have life in you. Beacon of Hope may we know you more clearly, love you more dearly, and follow you more nearly.[v] †Amen.
[i] Bo Don Cox. Forward Movement Day by Day. (Forward Movement Publications: Cincinnati, 1998). Meditation for Monday, March 9, 1998.
[ii] Max Lucado, In The Eye of the Storm: A Day in the Life of Jesus. (Word Publishing: Dallas, 1991), p. 105.
[iii] Ted Turner has already given away 69% of his wealth per Lindsay Hamilton in ďMan Gives Away $400 Million to Hospitals: Hospital Gift Furthers Trend of Billionaire Benevolence,Ē February 3, 2007. abcnews.go.com.
[iv] Meryl Ahart from Central UMC and Shepherd of the Valley UMC has a lighthouse collection.
[v] From ďThree Things We PrayĒ by Richard of Chichester, England, 13th century. United Methodist Hymnal, Carlton R. Young, ed. (Nashville: United Methodist Publishing House, 1989), p. 493.
Sermon delived by Rev. Nancy Cushman on December 2, 2007.
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